After six, long years in the making, has Aliens: Colonial Marines ended up as the lean mean entertainment machine we hoped for, or is it as twitchy as a model A2 android?
It’s difficult playing it now – not impossible, but difficult – to see how anyone could have thought Aliens: Colonial Marines had the potential to be one of the best first-person shooters of recent years. I admit to being one of those people, so it’s a shame to see the game has clearly been affected by its trouble-laden and prolonged gestation period. A videogame follow up to James Cameron’s Aliens had the potential to be as rip-roaring as the film, but what we’ve got instead is something largely unremarkable.
It’s not so much a well-oiled machine but rather a greasy chute that’s happy to take you from the start to the end of its story in as quick and pain free a manner as possible. You play as Corporal Christopher Winter alongside a few other select slabs of space marine, and have to fight through both a range of Xenomorphs and Weyland-Yutani mercenaries in order to get off the planet LV-246. This involves, for the most part, shooting up a load of aliens using a range of generic guns in tight corridors and open areas of the infested planet’s surface.
If this sounds by the numbers, you’re not wrong, but the repetitive nature of the game is exacerbated by the fact that gunplay never truly satisfies. Squelching, rampaging Xenomorphs should be challenging and clever, yet so many are thrown at you (and just as easily dispatched) that Colonial Marines feels like almost any other extra-terrestrial-themed blaster from recent years. The enemy AI of both the aliens and humans is disappointingly predictable.
It goes without saying that all of the marines in the game are a million miles from being anywhere near as interesting or entertaining as those of the Cameron film either – and that includes Winter. It’s somewhat ironic that, despite controlling the character, you don’t get anywhere near as attached to him as Ripley, Hicks, Vasquez, or even the non-human Bishop from the film.
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But the real shame is that the albeit short campaign does offer glimpses of the series’ trademark tense atmosphere and thrilling action. Having to sneak past dying Xenomorphs without your weapons, welding doors as you attempt to get away from a rampaging giant alien and the periods where all you have is your flashlight to guide you – these are exactly the moments that suggest the game could have been far more impressive and immersive than the largely standard run-and-gun shoot-fest it became.
So, it’s up to the online multiplayer to offer a genuinely exciting Aliens experience, and it almost pulls it off. There are four modes and each comprises of two parts – one where you play as a marine, and another as a Xenomorph. The Deathmatch and Exterminator modes – where you have to rack up the most kills and protect and then destroy alien nests respectively – are solid but won’t hold your interest for long.
Instead, it’s the Escape and Survivor modes where the most intriguing ideas can be found. In Escape, you have to work together with three other marines to achieve certain tasks, while being flanked by a quartet of Xenomorphs. Survivor asks you co-operate too, but in order to defend an area by setting up turrets and the like. Both can lead to some tight and exciting battles even if you end up with people that aren’t interested in co-operating.
Ultimately, Aliens: Colonial Marines is far from the train wreck you might expect: the campaign is uninspired but not broken (although graphical rough edges are present throughout) and the online multiplayer can be a decent distraction if you give it the chance, but it still ends up fitting very snugly into the “wait for a large discount” category.
Aliens: Colonial Marines, by Sega and Gearbox Software, is available now for Xbox 360, PS3 (reviewed) and PC.